Smelly Armpits

Smelly Armpits
Underarm odor is a common issue. Let me explain the cause and some treatment options.

Everyone has glands in their underarm area called apocrine glands. These glands secrete oily fluid (a type of sweat) that have no smell when they reach skin and soften it. This softened oily skin is very appetizing for bacteria. The reason you smell is not because you secrete this oily fluid, and not because the oily fluid softens your skin, but because of bacteria on your skin that break it down.

Bacteria are all over our skin. These bacteria like the oily secretion released by the glands of the underarm and how it softens the skin proteins. The bacteria degrade the oil and skin protein into ammonia and various types of fatty acids which give off the odor you are complaining about. People with excess smell from their underarms often have more and larger apocrine glands than others, making this more of an issue.

Bacteria on our skin are normally not harmful. But in this situation, you want to decrease the number of bacteria in your underarms or decrease the sweat released by the glands of your underarm decrease your body odor.

All treatments should be individualized, but here are some things I suggest you consider:

  • Shower daily and wash your underarms with an antibacterial soap (consider showering twice a day if you sweat excessively)
  • While in the shower fill your hand with hydrogen peroxide and splash and rub it into each of your underarms. At the end of the shower you may rinse it off with water only (This will kill some of the bacteria and is effective)
  • Shave or remove your underarm hair (this decreases sweat production)
  • Use deodorant which gives a more pleasant smell (it’s a type of perfume) and/or
  • Use antiperspirants which actually partially block the glands from secreting (Yes, Deodorant and Antiperspirant are different)
  • If sweating is excessive, consider talking to your physician about DrySol (Aluminum Chloride Hexahydrate) a prescription strength antiperspirant that is very potent and effective in stopping sweating. Be sure to use it as directed. This will decrease your glands secretion dramatically
  • Botox (Botulinum toxin) injections for the underarms help decrease sweating
  • Foods like garlic, curry, chives and onions (have strong health benefits) but you may need to learn to avoid them and see if this changes your odor. These foods have great healthy properties so avoid them for a week to see if there is any odor benefit and go back to them if not

Other uncommon causes of underarm odor are: hormone changes either in puberty or menopause; diseases from organs (liver or kidney disease) causing toxins to be released in the skin; and rarely a zinc vitamin deficiency can contribute to body odor.

See our Physicians and P.A.s at Doctors Urgent Care for the highest quality medical evaluation and treatment. We treat excess sweating and underarm odor.

David B. Dean, MD
Medical Director
Doctors Urgent Care